Silver Spring Sings a Different Tune

Downtown Silver Spring

Downtown Silver Spring has come a long way in the last few years.

“Welcome to our Friday jam, ladies and gentlemen,” beckoned the emcee as she peered over the microphone, shading her eyes with a manila folder and surveying the crowd. “We hope you enjoy the show.”

So began another free outdoor concert in Silver Spring, Md., where I recently toured the city’s revamped downtown sector. Though the temps were high that particular Friday, the heat did little to wilt the spirit of the fans – no doubt relishing their weekend release from 9-5 duties – as they jolted and head-bobbed to the band’s catchy mélange of zydeco and traditional blues. This week, it was zydeco and blues. Next, perhaps soul and world music. The line-up varies at the Silver Spring Summer Concert Series, but you can be sure of a foot-stompin’ good time.

My walkabout began at the pavilion in Veterans Plaza, a new amphitheater that was completed in July – the finishing touch on a decade-long refurbishment project that has seen Silver Spring’s downtown area shed its dilapidated image for recasting as a burgeoning arts and entertainment hub.

The pavilion, distinct with its metal-and-glass work and up-swept roof, sits at the heart of downtown at the intersection of Fenton St. and Ellsworth Dr., where meandering sightseers and vendors contribute to the festival atmosphere on weekends. Here, the mostly open space – with plenty of audience seating, plus spots for eating and lounging – is ringed by a cluster of recently finished two-story buildings, their fresh facades beaming on the courtyard below. Most prominent is the Regal Majestic Theatre, a fully appointed multiplex with stadium seating.

Sauntering up Ellsworth Dr. – which is closed on weekends, allowing pedestrians free reign of the street – I discovered a range of restaurants. Further exploration of adjacent avenues yielded more abundant results: Indeed, everything from Burmese to Vietnamese cuisine can be had in Silver Spring. Particularly Tweet-worthy enticements include Cakelove – a boutique bakery with outstanding cupcakes – and 8407 Kitchen Bar – a trendy, upscale dinner-and-drinks hideaway.

Pirate

You likely won’t need a map to find the Piratz Tavern. Just look for the friendly skeleton resting his bones out front.

Fenton St. offered more traditional nightspots, headlined by the Quarry House Tavern, a still-standing reminder of Silver Spring’s pre-gentrified days. Adventurous revelers may opt to dock at the popular Piratz Tavern, an eclectic pub where eye patches and tricorne hats are the norm. (Ahoy, landlubbers: Period dress is optional.)

From there, I made a right onto Georgia Ave. and was confronted by the looming Discovery Channel building. This conspicuous, cubical structure serves as an obvious landmark for out-of-towners, but the real eye-catcher is in the lobby: A life-size T. Rex skeleton stands guard over a collection of science-themed attractions, including a specimen of real mammoth tusks and a cool, kinetic sculpture.

Rounding the corner onto busy Colesville Rd., I was greeted by the can’t-miss marquee of the AFI Silver Theatre, the bright, scrolling letters of which proclaimed the imminent arrival of the next art-house flick. The Silver – a high-tech cinema that mostly caters to the avant-garde crowd but occasionally dabbles in popular fare – hosts the annual SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival in June and, along with the lively Round House Theatre next door, creates a mini arts district for the area.

Strolling past the Round House and hanging a right at DaMarco – a hole-in-the-wall Italian eatery that remains perhaps Silver Spring’s best-kept secret – I found myself once again on Fenton St., where sight of the pavilion and the waning sounds of the nearly finished zydeco show signaled the end of my walking tour. But you can bet I’ll be back … and soon. After all, the Silver Spring Jazz Festival, which last year drew an estimated 20,000 people to the downtown area, is right around the corner.

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